Daisy May Bates C.B.E

Plot 255B : Path 15 South

The most visited grave in the cemetery is that of Aboriginal welfare worker and anthropologist, Daisy May Bates. Daisy was an Irish Australian journalist, welfare worker and lifelong student of the culture and society of Australian Abroriginals.

Daisy May Bates was born Margaret Mary O’Dwyer in Ireland on 16 October, 1859. While still an infant, Daisy’s mother died and she was brought up by her maternal grandmother until the age of 8.  Daisy was sent to live with a family in England when her grandmother passed away in 1871.

At the age of 24, she travelled to Australia aboard the Almora, and took up a post as governess at Fanning Downs Station. It was here that she met Edwin Henry Murrant, a horse breaker, who was better known as “Breaker” Morant. They were married in 1884, but the marriage was frought with financial problems. They separated within a year, with Murrant eventually enlisting in the Second Contingent of the South Australian Mounted Rifles, and serving in the Boer War in South Africa.

Daisy moved to Sydney and was soon engaged to Philip Gipps, who unfortunately passed away before the marriage took place. Instead, in 1885, Daisy married John Bates a drover and horse breaker. The life of a drover’s wife did not suit Daisy, and within four months, she married a third time to Ernst Clark Baglehole. Daisy never divorced any of her husbands.

Her only child, a son, was born in Bathurst on 26 August, 1886.

Daisy was not suited to family life, possibly due to her fractured upbringing, and after travelling Australia for some time, she found herself penniless and returned to England in 1894, leaving her husbands and son behind.

Back in England she found work as a journalist, and was interested when an article was printed in The Times about the cruel treatment of the Aborigines in Western Australia. After offering to investigate the allegations and write some articles for their newspaper, she returned to Australia in 1899.

This was the beginning of her work with the Aboriginal people which she continued until her death in 1951.

In 1912, Daisy established the first of the harsh, isolated camps for which she became renowned. She spent time amongst several indigenous tribes in both Western Australia and South Australia. Although living in tents, Daisy was always immaculately dressed in long dark skirts and black hat.

Her last camp was situated at Ooldea, on the Nullabor Plain, which she left due to ill-health in 1945.

She was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (C.B.E.) in 1934 for her welfare work with Aborigines. She wrote many newspaper articles and books, including an autobiography.

Her headstone bears the inscription “Kabbarli”, meaning “grandmother” in a number of Aboriginal languages.